Alou Kuol is dreaming big but working like a demon after his switch to Germany – just don’t ask if his brother is better, reports KEEPUP’s Tom Smithies
It seems fitting that Alou Kuol’s breakthrough goal came from nipping in front of unsuspecting defenders, as it feels like the 20-year-old has been doing that ever since.
His brief but spectacular professional football career has nipped ahead of where even he thought it might be since that goal for Central Coast Mariners against Newcastle Jets last season. In little more than 400 days since, Kuol hasn’t so much hit the ground running as raced around the world.
While that football career is very much about its potential in the future, his acclimatisation at each new level so far means his dream of playing for the Socceroos at a World Cup sounds a reasonable ambition when he maps out what’s to come for KEEPUP on an early morning Zoom from Germany.
Even for a player who comes across as comfortably self-assured in most interviews – and for the record, he’s also polite and punctual when arranging them – admits it’s all a bit bewildering how a football career stalled below A-Leagues level suddenly exploded.
A quick trip back to Australia to spend Christmas with his family left his sleeping patterns “in all sorts” he jokes, but the immediate ambition is to “enjoy the moment”.
Since last season’s remarkable breakthrough campaign at the Mariners – scoring goals and energising the crowd with his attitude and energy – Kuol has signed for Stuttgart, scored seven goals in 18 games for their Under-23 side and now been loaned out to 2.Bundesliga side Sandhausen to get first team action.
“It’s pretty crazy, 100%,” Kuol agrees. “Everything just happened so fast, like no one expected it. There were a few coaches that did believe in me like Monty and Sergio (Mariners head coach Nick Montgomery and assistant Sergio Raimundo). They really pushed me to get in the A-League set-up. But I can’t believe it myself, since the Newcastle game. it just kicked off since then.
“It was a beautiful season from us, to go from last (place) to third was incredible.
“(Then) the move to Germany was pretty smooth, I’ve good people around me. Before getting here, like the opportunity was crazy, I never thought it would happen.
“But when it came I didn’t think twice, I just took it from there. I just enjoy the moment. The Germans are treating me well, they’re good teammates, so I’m happy to be here.”
At Stuttgart he scored on debut for the U23s, and had several sessions with the first team when numbers were depleted.
“I believe in myself, so I believed I can keep up with (the U23 side). So I wouldn’t say I was surprised (with how things have turned out) because I believe myself.,” he said.
“When it comes to first team, that’s a bit different – those guys give me a run for my money every day!
“At the Mariners all my work was about earning a place in the starting 11, and from there every team I go into that’s what I want to do. Once I cement that spot I just keep working hard and make sure I play week in, week out.
“Scoring goals is the only way to keep your spot really. You have to perform well constantly and scoring goals is the best way to do it.
“It’s the mentality that’s really different compared to Australia, the mentality here is (football) is all they live and breathe. So they take it really seriously. You got to be on your toes every day.”
Having come to Australia as a refugee aged three from war-torn Sudan, Kuol is proud of his dual heritage, especially in football terms. For an ambitious young striker, though, there’s a clear path forwards.
“At the moment I’m just focusing on club football, but if an (international) opportunity came up I’d jump at it – who wouldn’t?” he asks.
“Until then I’m just grinding it out here. Ideally I’d want to play in a World Cup and the best country for that would be Australia. But I don’t really mind representing either country, they’re both beautiful to me. So whatever opportunities come up, if it’s the right one and the right time in my career once I’ve established myself, then I’m more than happy to do either.”
That’s the serious, focused Alou Kuol. But mention his brother Garang, however, whose three appearances for the Mariners aged 17 have already brought his first goal, and the banter returns.
“Stay on your toes, start doing your research now before he gets older, 100%,” Alou says. “This guy, he’s got better feet than me, 100%.
“Everybody knows he’s good. He’ll most likely (breakthrough this year). I can’t see why not, he’s a good player. I believe in him.”
All of which, you enquire, suggests that Alou might not even believe he’s the best player in his own family.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say I’m the best but I’d say I’m the original. Original always does a job. Any newer ones you might want in the short term but long term? You want the original. Saves you money.”